Thursday, November 28, 2013

Kindling New the Holy Lamps

As I began writing this I was reminded of a joke my neighbour Sandy told me last week.
WASP Gentleman:  Rabbi, when is Hanukkah this year?

Rabbi:  25 Kislev - same as every year!
Nambe Illume Menorah

And indeed today is the 25 Kislev in the year 5774 on the Jewish calendar and as the second sunset of Hanukkah approaches it is time to wish my friends *Chag Urim Sameach!.   

In a few past postings celebrating the Feast of Light I have included pictures of  antique menorahs from various cultures and times.  This year I thought I'd include a few photos of modern Hanukkah candelabrum.

Olive Branch Menorah by Michael Aram

The menorah is central to the celebration of Hanukkah as a symbol of the eight days that the miracle of the oil lasted at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 2 BCE.  The law required that the lamps be lit at all times during the rededication but only one small flask of sacred oil was found.  Only enough to last a day.  But miraculously the oil burned and lit the temple for the eight days it took to consecrate new oils.

The traditional Temple menorah has only seven branches as does the symbol on the coat of arms of Israel.   The nine branches on the Hanukkah menorah give a place for a light for each day of the miracle and a shamash or "attendant" light.  It is always placed above the others and serves for illumination and in most households is used to light the other candles.  

Two of the rabbinical schools disagreed over the proper order for lighting the candles.  The House of Shammai decreed that all the candles should be lit the first day and then one less candle each day.  Their justification was that the miracle was at its greatest the first day.  The House of Hillel believed that one candle should be lit the first day and one more each succeeding day as the greatness and wonder of the miracle increased.  The later was chosen as the lawful and proper way of commemorating the miracle and is what is observed today.

The Sabra Menorah by Judaica Designs USA
Customs vary from sect to sect:  some Ashkenazi families have a menorah for each member or if only one then each member of the family takes a turn lighting a candle.  In Sephardi households there is one menorah and the head of the household lights the candles.  These customs do vary from household to household and are based more on tradition than any hard and fast rule.

As with all ritual objects the form and design has changed with the times and trends.   Clay and pottery gave way to brass and metal; simple tribal patterns became the elaborate curves and esses of the Barqoue; Art Nouveau tendrils crept around Lions of Judah; and today young artists use metal, ceramic, wood and even plastic in their menorahs.  What was once Mooresque has become Henry-Mooresque.  And, as with their predecessors, sometimes there is a touch of humour in their designs - I can't imagine what sort of household would have Jonathan Adler's dignified hound at the Hanukkah table but you can never tell with people.

Dachshund Menorah by Jonathan Adler
What ever type of menorah you light tonight, where ever you may gather to sing Ma'oz Tzur I wish to all my friends celebrating the Festival of Light all the joy of these days of celebration.

* Wishing you a Hanukkah filled with light

November 28 - 1925:  The Grand Ole Opry begins broadcasting in Nashville, Tennessee, as the WSM Barn Dance.

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Unknown said...

I love the joke! I'm going to steal it.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

I love how inventive and creative some of the modern menorahs can be -- the true sign of a living symbol.

Ur-spo said...

I imagine collecting them could be an interesting hobby.

Harpers Keeper said...

Beautiful pieces, Were it not for the context I am not sure I would have recognized the Olive Branch piece as a menorah